— Your Grace, today in Amman the heads of several of the Orthodox Churches are meeting. What can you tell us about this gathering?
Several primates of the Local Orthodox Churches have accepted the generous invitation of His Beatitude the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to meet in Amman in order to discus, in a fraternal and prayerful manner, some of the issues relating to the disunity that has arisen in parts of the Orthodox world. Their aim, as archpastors, is to seek the Orthodox path of cooperative resolution to difficult circumstances, constructively attempting to overcome worldly divisions through wise application of canonical principles and pastoral love.
— These issues of disunity, you are speaking of the situation regarding the Patriarchate of Constantinople?
It is well known that the most serious issues of disunity in the present moment are the result of the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which have brought their relationship with the rest of the Orthodox world into a tenuous state, and which relationships clearly cannot continue in a full manner without those behaviours and actions being addressed. So yes, such matters will be at the heart of the discussions in Amman; though there are also other issues that the primates and their representatives may discuss.
— Not all the Churches will have their primates in Amman. Does this hinder the meeting’s usefulness?
Of course it would be desirable for all the Local Churches to gather together to address such weighty matters together in a spirit of fraternity and love. However, so long as one of the patriarchs declares that only he alone has the right to convene a council of all the Churches, and refuses to do so, this is not a possibility. Such a position is of course neither canonical nor traditional, nor is it realistic, especially when that primate’s actions are themselves amongst the subjects such a council might be called to discuss.
In Amman, then, we see the convening of those primates and representatives of the Local Churches willing righteously and fearlessly to stand for the truth and follow the Orthodox path of addressing challenges in a conciliar way when they arise. Of course their work will not be definitive; it is but a beginning, but a necessary one, and one for which we can be thankful to God.
— You speak of “standing for the truth,” but we often hear on the internet that the disputes are mostly political, that they involve power struggles between Constantinople and Moscow but not matters of faith or dogma.
I hear these statements too, and it saddens me to realise how easily people are swayed by the politicisation of their perception. While it is true that, in its origins, the present situation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s relationship to the rest of the Orthodox world began in the territorial realms of jurisdictional incursion and a misuse of authority and power, it has since escalated directly into the realms of dogma — of the sacraments, of the nature of the Church. When individuals with no sacramental ordination in the Church are falsely claimed to be priests and hierarchs and set over the holy Mysteries, this is a fundamental denial of the nature of those sacraments, especially that of ordination. When those outside the Church are falsely claimed to be part of it, simply by fiat or pronouncement and not by repentance and sacramental baptism and chrismation, this is a fundamental denial of the nature of the Church itself, and of those sacramental realities. So these are the most grave of matters. Whatever may be the “political” issues surrounding the origins of the disputes, or whatever political factors may still figure into various behaviours on all sides, no one with their spiritual eyes open can deny that these are theological matters. They are matters of truth, and more importantly, of falsehood being promulgated under the guise of truth. It is for this reason that the hierarchs of the Churches, and above all their primates, must work together in earnest to ensure that such falsehood does not go uncorrected.
— Finally, Your Grace, do you see any significance in the fact that this meeting falls just before the beginning of Lent? Is there a message for us in this?
God’s hands are visible in all good things. Great Lent is a season of repentance, and it is only through repentance that sin is overcome and those in error are called back to the truth and life in Christ. This is true for each of us. We all sin, we all wander at times, wittingly or unwittingly, into error and must be called back through repentance to what is right and true. This is no less the case for clerics or hierarchs or those in the administration of Patriarchates. Error is error, truth is truth, and when the one appears, it must be cast out in favour of the other. This is the nature of our life in Christ.
Let us pray that the patriarchs and others gathered today in Amman will, by the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, take positive and holy steps towards disclosing this path of repentance to all those currently sowing discord, so that real peace, not worldly peace but the peace that comes from unity in the truth who is God himself, may prevail always and everywhere.